Over the years, instead of renovating structures, Eugene has exhibited a pattern of simply knocking them down and building anew — just take a look at the modernization that has erased many of the old buildings around town or stroll by the empty lot that recently housed our former City Hall.
Now members of the Eugene community are fighting against a similar fate to be imposed on the East Grandstand of Hayward Field in preparation for construction of a new, larger stadium.
Some local residents are hoping to put a halt to Hayward’s demolition altogether — by attempting to designate the site as a city landmark, with help from the City Council. Some, like Tom Bowerman, son of Oregon track coach and Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman, are urging more critical thought about the project before any construction begins on a new facility.
Others are hoping that the historic structure, witness to iconic athletes such as Steve Prefontaine, will live on in other ways, such as potentially moving the East Grandstand to the former Civic Stadium site.
The demolition of Hayward Field’s East Grandstand was proposed to make room for a new stadium to house the 2021 World Outdoor Track and Field Championships — the same event under investigation by the Department of Justice for possible racketeering, money laundering and fraud charges, according to The New York Times.
There has been no update on the investigation since late January, when the NYT reported that the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) had been of particular interest to the Department of Justice after awarding the championships to Eugene with no bidding process.
The effects of the international track event on the fate of Hayward Field have inspired locals to organize against the proposed demolition. Community members came together on Monday, April 23, during the public forum portion of a City Council meeting, asking that councilors consider designating Hayward Field a city landmark in defiance of the project.
Sixteen people spoke about the importance of Hayward Field during the public forum. Community members such as Neta Prefontaine, Steve Prefontaine’s sister, and Bob Hart, executive director of the Lane County History Museum, talked about the cultural and historical implications of demolishing the East Grandstand.
Councilors appeared sympathetic toward the concerns. The forum ended with Councilor Alan Zelenka, of the University District, putting forth a motion to have a “timely” work session to discuss forwarding the application to declare the East Grandstand a city landmark. All eight councilors agreed.
Bob Penny, who grew up near Hayward Field and ran track for South Eugene High School, was one of several people present at the public forum — and he’s the one who wrote the city landmark application. Penny said he was going to submit the application himself but, as a private citizen, didn’t have the power to do that, which is why he pulled together support to speak at Monday’s City Council meeting.
Penny says that only the property owner — currently the university — the city planner or the City Council has the power to nominate public sites for city landmark status. The most realistic party to discuss this with, Penny says, was the City Council.
Even if the site is designated as a city landmark, Penny says, that wouldn’t necessarily save it from demolition. But, he says, the City Council’s support in submitting the application remains crucial.
“They’ve already declared they’re going to demolish it,” Penny says of the UO. “So for the city to forward the application at this juncture is kind of a gesture that they’d like to get in front of the demolition. That’s where I give the process some hope. Even though the property owner has a lot of rights and power, these decisions are driven by public pressure.”
Penny says he hopes this movement to preserve the structure gives people a voice to speak out and protect the history of their city, adding that he rejects the notion that opposing the grandstand’s demolition is simply a nostalgic gesture that refuses to let go of the past.
“We don’t want to be seen as obstructionists or overly sentimentalists who just can’t bear change,” he says. “We want to present an alternative vision that integrates history and innovation, and to try to promote a different narrative that’s more inclusive of the concerns of a much wider group of people.”
Tom Bowerman says the design for a new structure should be more thoroughly considered before taking any action on the building project.
“I suppose I would have to imagine that that’s an artist conception, and it’s a conceptual design at this point,” Bowerman says of the facility design released last week which features a 12,900-seat stadium (expandable to 30,000) with a clear semi-dome covering the seating. Bowerman says he has a hard time believing that that’s a practical design, if they’re planning on using plastics. He asks, “Can you imagine how hot it would be underneath a clear dome like that?”
Bowerman also says more thought should be put into the efficiency of resources surrounding a project such as this, especially since its construction is being prompted by a one-time event like the world track championships.
“There is one event that apparently there’s a minimum stadium requirement for — one event that might happen once in the history of Eugene,” he says. “You build that stadium, and even if it filled up once a year for the NCAAs or something, which it won’t do, those seats would be occupied, what? 0.00001 percent of the time? Is this really how investments should be categorized?”
There are already other cities that have existing stadiums to accommodate an event of this size, Bowerman says. “Why would you want to drop this in Eugene for such an unusual, rare event?”
Regardless of opinions on Hayward Field, most community members said they were nervous about the way the project is being presented to the public — seemingly without any allowance for input. Tobin Klinger, the university’s media relations contact, says the university has had discussions with people who have “a vested interest in the facility,” but ultimately, Hayward Field is the university’s.
“We have taken great care to engage important stakeholders in the development of the plans,” Klinger says. “First and foremost, this is a facility for the University of Oregon and a year-round home to student athletes in the track and field program.”
EW asked Klinger how much input, if any, the university has in the design of the project to which he responded, “Ultimately, this is the University of Oregon’s facility and the UO Foundation would not move forward with anything that was not in line with the university’s goals and objectives.”
Klinger says the new Hayward Field will “set a new world standard for the track and field athlete and fan experience — while ensuring the legacies of Bill Bowerman and Hayward Field live far into the future.”
At this point, keeping Hayward’s East Grandstand in place might be an unrealistic prospect, but other ideas are being discussed, like saving it from demolition and potentially moving it to the former Civic Stadium site.
Director of the Eugene Civic Alliance, Nancy Webber, says that option is not completely off the table.
Webber says Eugene Civic Alliance so far has raised $21 million and will start construction on a field house for Kidsports at the old Civic Stadium site this season. She says the group still needs another $10 million for the grandstand and other amenities.
“The ECA Board has not formally talked about the East Grandstand,” Webber says. “If we did, we would need to know that it’s feasible to move the structure, to renovate it and to maintain it, and we would also need to know that there’s enough funding available to do that.”
Civic Stadium opened in 1938, about 20 years after Hayward Field, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008 before it burned down in an arson fire in 2015.
“I can see why people are talking about it, because the rooflines on the Civic Stadium and the East Grandstand are very similar and they were both built in the same era and carry a lot of meaning for many, many people in this community,” Webber says.
History seems to be the biggest argument against the demolition of Hayward Field and its East Grandstand. Though the fans may still attend events, Bob Penny says the experience at Hayward Field will be “utterly changed.”
“After 100 years, the building and us are one thing, and that’s what people don’t understand about the building heritage of our environment,” Penny says. “It’s about us as much as it’s about the building. So, we’re failing the building in this moment by turning our backs on its history.”
A relative of one of EW’s local owners is on the board of Eugene Civic Alliance.